Morrowind, by far, has always been my favourite of the Elder Scrolls games. Many people complained about its combat system or about the graphics, but I don’t think they truly grasped the beauty of the game. In the early 2000s, game maps were essentially funnels; you had to go here through this specific path, with occasional offshoots and secret areas for you to find. As is often the case, if you saw something in the distance, you couldn’t get there directly. You had to go through some elaborate path in order to get there. Often these barriers were logical, as long as you didn’t think too hard about them. Neverwinter Nights, for instance, you were often blocked by cliffs and mountains, and masses of trees. If you think too hard about this, however, you realize that all of the open areas are nearly perfect squares, and you realize how unnatural that is.
Morrowind was different. You were open, and free, and allowed to go anywhere you could see. There was never anything on the horizon that, once you got closer, you realized you couldn’t actually reach. In some ways, it was even better at this than Oblivion or Skyrim because it was set on an island, Vvardenfell. There are places in Oblivion that you could see, but you couldn’t actually reach due to the barriers involved, as was the case in Skyrim, but in Morrowind, the entire world was at your fingertips.
Morrowind also felt so much larger to me than Oblivion and Skyrim. I’m sure if you look at the actual area involved in the game, Oblivion and Skyrim will both be bigger, but the impression one got from playing the game just wasn’t the same. Morrowind felt huge, massive even. After hundreds of hours of playing, if you started a new game, you could still find places that you have never been to before. A large part of this, I think, is due to the map and travel systems. In the later games, every location, once discovered, will appear on the map. Even before they appear they can be seen on the compass so that you know when there are locations nearby. Once you found those locations, you could essentially teleport between locations at will. Morrowind didn’t have any of this. Sure you had a map with locations marked on it, but only the most major locations or the largest dungeons were displayed. If you zoomed in on your immediate area, you could see markers for the entrance to a location that you had been to before, but not ones you had never seen. There was no compass pointing you to the entrance, or a easy way to move between dungeons, you had to physically run there. This, more than anything, is what made Morrowind feel so large. The world just doesn’t feel big when you can go from Bruma to Leyawiin at the click of a button. Even the travel options in Morrowind, silt striders, boats, guild guides and the stronghold teleportation system provided easy and logical limitations on your movement. You can’t simply take the boat from Khuul and appear at Tel Mora, you had to boat hop from place to place, getting yourself closer to your destination, just as you can’t take a plane from Seattle and fly directly to Moscow; you have to stop a few times along the way.
More than that, though, the world itself felt more alive. You didn’t go into a dungeon and kill some generic bandits who would respawn when you returned 10-30 days later. You killed real people, with names and uniqueness. When you went back to that dungeon ten, fifteen or even one-hundred days later, those people were still dead, and no one had taken their place. You could make a real impact on the world. You weren’t limited in any way on what you could do, within reason or logic of course. If you wanted to kill Caius Cosades, the main quest giver for the main quest, you could. He wouldn’t just be brought to his knees, only to get back up a few seconds later. He would be dead. Of course you have now ruined your game, but you were allowed to.
In all, Morrowind felt like the biggest, fullest, and most alive world that Bethesda has ever created, and better than any other game I have played to date. It might not have had the best combat systems or graphics, but who needs those in a role-playing game? All you need is a character, and the ability to affect any change you want upon the world.